Ex-Bosch engineers aim to strengthen self-driving car software

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A company formed by two longtime self-driving car engineers is seeking to make the open-source software that powers many experimental self-driving cars safe and reliable enough to be used in commercially available vehicles.

Palo Alto, California-based Apex.AI was founded by Jan Becker and Dejan Pangercic, veterans from automotive technology supplier Bosch Corp [ROBSCJ.UL]. Apex.AI publicly unveiled its efforts on Thursday and said it had raised $15.5 million in venture capital funding from Canaan Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Apex.AI plans to make a safer and more reliable version of the so-called Robot Operating System, or ROS. That software sprang from research labs a little more than a decade ago and is used by scores of labs and companies in their self-driving car and robotics efforts, including Intel Corp, Microsoft Corp and Inc.

The software is open source, meaning that anyone can adopt it and use it free of charge. But it was designed to help researchers get projects up and running quickly, rather than for later stage commercial applications, Becker told Reuters in an interview.

“ROS was never made for production. It’s an awesome tool for research, but when talking about safety and security, it’s not designed for that,” Becker said.

Apex.AI’s plan is to create a version of the software optimized to not fail. In some operating systems, behind-the-scenes work to run multiple applications at once can create lags of a few milliseconds. That may not matter if the software is running a smartphone or laptop, but in a self-driving car it can make the difference between braking in time or not, Becker said.

Apex.AI plans to start releasing its software next year.

The company’s business model is to sell its tweaked version of the software and charge for support services. The approach mirrors that of Red Hat Inc, which in the 1990s took the open-source Linux operating system and made it stable enough for use inside banks and governments. International Business Machines Corp last month agreed to buy Red Hat for $34 billion.

Apex.AI, Becker said, seeks to be the Red Hat of automotive software. His co-founder Pangercic is on the technical committee that will decide the direction of the ROS software, alongside representatives from Intel, Microsoft, Bosch and Toyota Motor Corp’s Toyota Research Institute.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien